– First of all, how are you doing after these months coexisting with Covid-19? I hope you are all healthy.
Mark: Thank you. The most important thing at the moment is keeping everyone safe and well. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotion and change and it isn’t over yet. The good news is I’ve used the time to practice techniques and brush up on drum knowledge that otherwise would have taken years, so it’s been a blessing in disguise as well as a nightmare. I know Lee has been working on a few secret projects too so we’ve all been busy with music during this period.
– You have a new release out entitled “The Age of Steel”. A concept album that follows the theme of your 1988 record “Dominator”. How did the idea of bringing back the character and tell again the story after so many years born?
Lee: The fans were always telling me how much they loved the Dominator album so I wanted to do an album that would please them. I had to dig deep to top the last album who Mourns for the Morning star because it got great reviews. It was so well received in America that it got us the chance to play two back to back headline tours. Once I had the concept of resurrecting the dark lord by science and black magic combined then I was inundated by storyline ideas.
Mark: At gigs we never hide away after the show, we always go out into the audience to sign autographs and pose for selfies. The fans then tell you what they love about the band so you learn a lot. In a way it is like market research, and meeting the fans is the least you can do after they show you love and support by buying the albums and showing up at the gigs.
– It is well-known that “Dominator” was a concept album but it didn’tlook like so. I mean it didn’t have that vibe or ambience we are used to in concept albums from those days, even though it had that cosmic essence. Do you think this time you have give nthe album a stronger (both musically and visually) ambience? Are you pleasedwith the outcome?
Mark: The music in this album in my opinion is the best produced Cloven Hoof album yet. We truly had a wizard behind the Desk in Chris Dando (Vault Studios) who utilised Strings, Orchestras and other samples we never would have dreamed of. This is the benefit of working with talent, they bring out the best in you and the overall sound. Robert Romagna from Audio Stahl put the final touches on the album and mastered it to perfection. The combination of talent here means I am over the moon with the outcome!
– The cover artwork has improved too (even though for me, a classic dude who loves vinyls from the 80’s, that one from 1988 is endearing), with a Dominator that is back. What is the idea and the message you are portraying with the cover?
Lee: It is to symbolize the Dominators evil empire triumphant over the forces of Earth. The tyrant sits on a throne made up of human bones. Will the forces of Earth re-group and end the Dominators rule of terror? You will have to wait and see on the next album. Dimitar Nicolov painted the cover and he did a killer job. I sent him lots of examples how I imagined the Dominator character would look like. When I saw his artwork he nailed it exactly… awesome!
– I have had the chance of listening to the album and honestly, in line with the previous question, I think it is an album with a coherent concept line from beginning to the end. I perceive a travel through the universe. Was the song crafting process hard? Did you have clear ideas?
Lee: Yes I always need to have a definite story line a start, middle and end before I start writing the music. The storyline is all important and the music has to fit the various changes of subject matter, rather than the other way round. A lot of bands think a song is just a string of riffs thrown together. I like to have different moods and tempo changes to highlight the song content. Under the hood of Cloven Hoof is a prog rock band but we play in a heavy metal aggressive way. That is why we have our own unique identity.
– On the other hand, I have found nuances from other bands in the style in some parts, like for instance in “Alderley Edge” the melody and chorus reminds to MAIDEN’s “Seventh Son”,while “Touchthe Rainbow” reminds to “The Clairvoyant”, and in “Gods of War” we can find parts from “March of the Saint”. I guess all this was deliberate and frnakly, it fits perfectly. How did you come up with this idea of having passages with a hint to other bands?
Mark: This is something that was bought to our attention numerous times online, mostly negative. I would like to start by thanking people for comparing us to the great Iron Maiden and other bands, which is an honour. However, nothing here was deliberate. We recorded drums in 2018 off the back of a few loose demo tracks. Guitars, vocals and bass were all added afterwards in isolated separate sessions so it was virtually impossible for the outcome to be pre-determined as Lee gave us all creative control over our own parts. It would be like baking a cake with 4 completely blindfolded bakers. Any similarities are pure coincidence from the fact we’re playing the same genre and we’ve all got the same 12 notes to use. If fans want to see it as a “tip tothe hat” then so be it. It’s a great album and we only found out about these “similarities” post release.
– Could you consider this the best album you have recorded? Not your favourite, but the one where you feel like you have finally had the means to create the opus you wanted.
Mark: I would say so. Having done a lot of research on Cloven Hoof throughout the years, hearing albums get consistently better yet the classics always being requested at gigs, this blends timeless tracks with top notch production. I can say there is nothing I would change or do differently for my parts. I believe the rest of the band feel the same. Everyone was working together to do their best on their own individual parts to the betterment of the record, it definitely shows with the 9 and 10/10 reviews we keep receiving. Again, this is a HUGE honour and Iwant to thank the fans and reviewers for enjoying it so much!
– I interviewed you around 2014, when you released “Resist or Serve”. We talked about the history of the band and about future plans so now; how has the band evolved since then? How have these last years been for CLOVEN HOOF?
Mark: The band now has a fantastic line-up and I am extremely honoured to be playing with Lee, Ash and George. Interestingly, Resist and Serve is the reason I am in this band. My friend Daryl Gardner did a solo on Resist and Serve and Lee asked if he knew anyone who could produce a project he was working on (East of Lyra). Chris Dando was mentioned, and because I’m great friends with Chris, when Lee was looking for an EOL drummer, well… the rest is history!
Lee: I truly believe this is a fantastic line up now. Testament to us winning “best band” at MIlagre Metaliario in Portugal. Similarly, we had a fantastic reception at HardRock Hell in England as people never expect such a lively, tight show. Again, proof is in the pudding… this line-up is fantastic!
– And on a view to the future and after this new album, how is the live and touring situation?
Mark: Future plans are to tour the album when it is safe to do so. The future of live performances is uncertain at the moment. This is further amplified when you have a multinational band so travel implications affect us greatly. It DOES however give us chance to get unbelievably gig tight and work on the show… so watch this space!
– Are there already plans for a next album? Will there be a 3rd Dominator?
Lee: Absolutely! The next album will be the concluding part to the Dominators rise and fall. Hopefully it will be just as epic because the album was written at the same time as “Age of Steel”. I thought it was going to be a double album at one stage.
Mark: Cloven Hoof never stop. Lee has such a huge back catalogue of ideas that span multiple decades that we’re always looking forward to the next record. I can’t put a timeframe on this as things are rather uncertain at the moment… but watch this space… you WILL hear from us soon.!
– That would be it, thanks for your time. If you want to add someething else; it’s your turn. THANKS!!
Mark: Thank you for interviewing us. It has been our honour. Thank you to all of the Cloven Hoof fans out there who have welcomed myself and Ash into the band. It’s not easy following in the footsteps of some fantastic musicians so it’s a dream come true to be in this position. Stay safe, see you all soon!